“Stop pushing so hard on the door looking for happiness, it opens inwards.” — Anon
We know that money can’t buy happiness. If it could, every rich person in the world would be happy. Conversely, every poor person or the one who doesn’t have a lot of money, would be unhappy, right? Well, we know that this is not true either. I am not talking here of the ultimate bliss of Sat-chit-anandam, which is beyond the ordinary mortal, but of everyday happiness that you and I can have.
What exactly is happiness, if it is either too difficult or impossible for an average mortal to have? Though we often confuse joy with happiness, they are entirely different. Joy is not a permanent state of mind but a momentary emotion that is caused by some pleasant event, feeling or experience.
Happiness, like joy, also can be ephemeral unless it comes from within. When we look at beautiful scenery we feel happy. But to make that happiness last, we have to have a deeper appreciate of our situation. To take another example, we are very happy to see our children and grandchildren. It can either last just the duration of the visit or stay or continue afterwards too. The continued happiness is caused by the fact of being part of each other’s lives, our gratitude to God for giving them, our delight at their achievements and so one. Taken together, these give us contentment. That is happiness.
To my mind, the two most important factors for happiness are deep contentment, and a sense of fulfilment that it provides. There are other emotions like gratitude and positive attitude are the outcome of these two factors and contribute to lasting happiness.
While contentment can still be provided by external factors and material things, the sense of fulfilment has little to do with either external, or material factors as we saw in the above examples. That is why we see so many not-so-well-to-do people and even those living in dire poverty, find fulfilment in their lives. Obviously, this can be only caused by other factors which are more valuable for the person than material affluence. These factors are influenced by the attitude of the person concerned. There are people who can never find contentment or sense of fulfilment, no matter what kind of life they have.
However, if we want to understand what true happiness is, we only have to look at children – across the social spectrum. Their happiness is full of exuberance and abandonment and unconditional. That is how children wake up happy and full of energy. How many times have we groaned when we are woken up at the crack of dawn or even earlier, by tiny hands demanding to play? They are simply HAPPY. There is no external reason for it, for it springs from within. They are not worried about the things that causes a grown-up to be anxious or unhappy. Of course as they grow up and within a few have experiences outside the home, they might be worried – about a test, or a fight with a friend, consequently reducing their happiness. But as long as they are very young, they are full of a deep happiness that is infectious. Why do you think the sight of a child brings a smile to our lips?
Once, during a skype call with my granddaughter who was about 4 or 5 at that time, I asked her how she was.
‘I’m happy!’ she had said with shining eyes. And was she!
Given that happiness is a state of mind, ‘Do what makes you happy’, is one of the daftest exhortations we often hear. More importantly, how practical, or viable is chasing it, since we saw how lasting happiness is not brought on by external factors? It is not so simple to just up and leave everything to chase one’s happiness. Is it even possible for one to ‘find’ happiness when he is leaving his duties and responsibilities behind? But who cares about responsibility, when it is all about I, Me, Myself and, ‘It is my choice!’?
Everyone has a right to happiness. But is it just being free to do anything one wants? Let us take for example someone who is unhappy in his job and wants to become a traveller. How practical would it be to chuck his family responsibilities – feeding his family, the house loan, his children’s education and more? Should he even do it unless he has some alternative plan to take care of those responsibilities? How can one argue that he has the right to find what makes him happy? And what if he is unable to find happiness after chucking his job and family? A young person who is unattached or is not burdened with responsibilities may still try to find what satisfied him or her in life. Again, it often means hardship and struggle to find that sense of fulfilment, if they are willing to undertake the quest.
Even great saints who left their homes in search of knowledge and to spread dharma did not forget their primary responsibilities towards their families. Adi Sankara promised his mother that he would come to her to do his duties as her son when she remembered him before she left the world; and he did. Swami Vivekananda continued supporting his family as his father had died, even when he became the prime disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
I remember this small book I recently read. It is about how a little Buddha goes travelling, since he had got bored sitting under the Bodhi tree meditating all day. The little Buddha met some interesting people on his travels and learns a lot of things from them, to enrich his life when he finally returns to his tree.
One of the stories in it is about how he meets an unhappy merchant whose heart is not in his work. As a result, his business is not doing well compared to the others in the market – customers stay away from his shop because his countenance is so gloomy. Finding out that he yearned to write poems, but had to keep the shop going to earn his livelihood, the Little Buddha advises him to write poems during his free time. He explains that by doing what made him happy, he would be more cheerful, attracting more customers. What sane advice! Sure enough, the Little Buddha gets a letter from him sometime later saying that his book of poems is getting published, and he is planning to change his profession, as he is confident of fulfilling his responsibilities by writing. Clearly, happiness can’t be complete unless it is accompanied by a sense of satisfaction, fulfilment, and contentment, which can only be found when one is discharging one’s duties in life.
Knowing how abstract the feeling of happiness is, can it be quantified, as the Gross National Happiness Index claims to do? But that and other global ‘indices’ are topic for another post.
Images: Homepage: https://www.coolfunnyquotes.com/
This page: https://vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/ & https://www.newscientist.com/
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Happiness does not come by seeing as in that case a blind person can never be happy. Happiness does not come by listening to music or discourse or what you like as in that case a deaf person cannot be happy. Hence happiness has to come from within oneself. Keep the mind at peace and help those in distress. That can give real happiness. One need not be rich as you have rightly written as happiness cannot be bought. Rich can be happy if they keep helping the downtrodden and those who are in great poverty. The happiness on the face of a person when fed and who had not had food for many days can bring happiness to the giver. Well written article.
Thank you for the appreciation, AP. Any activity or material that provides transitory joy cannot be equated with deep happiness. I would say that even altruistic giving and sharing cannot provide lasting happiness, unless the peripherals are acknowledged and thanked. For instance, the we should be grateful to have the compassion to think of others and share with them. That itself is a big gift, for everyone can’t see others’ suffering to help them. Next, we can thank our situation that allows us to help. These and other connected things are what provide the deep happiness, not just the act of giving or sharing.
Happiness is all about contentment followed by gratitude.
However, contentment and gratitude can only go hand in hand if humans perceive non-materialistic goals.
Right. That is why I have mentioned the rich and the poor and how material things don’t bring happiness. In fact there should be no goal at all, either material or non-material, since that is like looking for happiness. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, @explorereikiworld!